The Zodiac headed toward the cliff face. The rough lava wall plunged twenty-five feet into the heaving sea. Further toward the shore, in the direction back toward Zippys, surfers rode breaking waves which expanded in size as the rollers were pushed against the side of the rock face. The approaching black boat quartered into each swell but quickly fell back on its assigned course…straight toward the house, Lauren peered out from. The Hypalon synthetic rubber reflected nothing, as the boat slithered across the top of the waves, giving little of its deadly nature away as it approached.
Lauren leaned in against the side of a Plumeria tree, its white flowers, with intense yellow centers, hanging down but not far enough to impede his aim. There would be no suppressor, homemade or otherwise. The .243 soft-nosed bullet launched from the barrel of the Mannlicher would have to exit at maximum velocity in order to have enough energy to expand and penetrate all the way through the Hypalon rubberized fabric of the boat. Suppressors did not simply suppress sound, they only truly worked if the bullets traveled at subsonic speed. There was no way to suppress a supersonic shock wave. Slowly, Lauren took two small pieces of Kleenex from his pocket. Wadding one into a pyramidal shape, he inserted it into his right ear. He then did the same with the other to his left.
The door buzzer continued to sound like the whine of a mosquito behind his back, but well deadened by the makeshift ear-plugs. The CIA team assembled beyond the front gate, no doubt attempting to provide some kind of diversion, would only be a problem if they’d brought a significant amount of explosive pyrotechnics. Shapiro had not been kidding around when he’d built the house. Even the front door was armored with more than a quarter-inch of homogeneous plated steel. The huge iron grating that comprised the outer fence, along with the front door, assured Lauren of having some time. He needed time to fire, and then to recover back into the house in order to absorb any onslaught when the hit team assembling out front somehow got through. There would be no disguising the sharp repeat in the firing of a high-velocity rifle. Panicked decisions, made by players not accustomed to actual combat, might ensue.
Lauren adjusted the scope for three hundred meters in range by turning a single knob on the Unertl’s side. There seemed no wind so he didn’t touch the knob controlling deflection. That would stay at zero. He breathed in deeply and held his breath. As he brought the crosshairs dead on with the air-filled tube on the boat’s starboard side, he slowly released the air from his lungs. The boat moved and thus the Mannlicher moved. Lauren made them move together until the rifle’s crosshairs and the starboard tube of the boat became entwined in a sort of gentle weaving dance. The trigger seemed to depress itself. The Mannlicher’s stock punched back into his right shoulder. Lauren smoothly operated the bolt mechanism and brought the rifle back into battery for the next shot, which he fired into the port tube. He fired again. Less than three seconds had gone by. The noise of the front door buzzer was gone, either because it had stopped being pushed or because Lauren’s ears were deadened by the shock waves from the muzzle blast. Kleenex was not on a shooters list of acceptable ear-plugs.
He put another round into each tube before hitting the diving bow of the boat square on as it dipped into a wave. He concentrated very hard not to allow any impact to land upon the two darkly clad men operating the boat. Both men were at the very stern trying to examine the damage causing the boat to sink deeply at its stern. Lauren ran for the open back door of the house, no longer concerned about the men in the boat. It was going down or at least becoming totally unusable as a launch platform for an assault on the wall below the house. He pulled the faux earplugs from his ears and tossed them aside.
Taking a position on the couch, with the Mannlicher extended over its back pointing at the front door and windows running along the wall nearby, he heard the ring of his cell phone. There were no sounds coming from the front gate or inside it. Lauren settled the rifle onto the couch cushions and hurried over to the long counter leading into the kitchen. He answered the ringing instrument.
“What in hell are you doing?” Sergeant Yee yelled, at high volume.
Lauren winced. “Defending my house. The CIA is coming at me and I’m not going quietly into the night!” he responded.
“Are you totally bonkers? You can’t go around shooting CIA agents and live. They were simply coming to see if you might be brought under some kind of control. You zapped their Chief of Station with that stun gun. What did you think was going to happen, for Christ’s sake?”
Lauren listened to Sergeant Yee breathing deeply into the phone, his normal calm exterior and presentation obviously broken to pieces.
“How did you know what happened?” Lauren asked, weakly.
“How did I know? How did I know? The CIA out front is calling. The neighborhood is calling. Everyone is calling. This is Hawaii, not some free-fire zone in Afghanistan. They heard your firing all the way over at Koko Head!”
“Sorry,” Lauren said, contritely.
“Sorry. You’re a piece of work, you know. Ever since you got here this has turned into one stinking mess. Did you sink their boat?” Yee asked.
Lauren walked back out to the lanai. He stood at the wall looking at the black patch that had once been the flying Zodiac. The stern and bow had both sunk beneath the water. Only the deflated center could be seen. It looked more like a large tourist air mattress than a boat. The two men could be seen stroking slowly toward the surf line. A boat zoomed-in, turning sharply as it flew across the water from under the bridge into Hawaii Kai Marina. “Yes, I believe the boat is inoperable. The men are about to be picked up by one of those Japanese outboard things.”
“Just great. Great,” Yee said in exasperation. “The Japanese? What are they doing out there? The Zodiac probably cost about forty grand. Who’s going to pay for that? What in the hell is the Yakuza doing helping anyone, much less the CIA.?”
“Must have heard the shots,” Lauren responded, having no plausible explanation for anything.
“Oh right. Those cowardly mafia types come out under fire? I don’t think so. They were laying there all along with something on their evil oriental minds.”
Lauren was forced to smile. Yee was obviously part Japanese in lineage. The verbal slip revealed just how upset he was.
“Is the CIA still out front, trying to get it?” Lauren asked, looking back into what he could see of the living room.
“You’ve got to be kidding. You just laid waste to a Seal Team boat by blasting away with whatever the hell weaponry you’ve got in there and those guys are going to stick around? They left when they heard the first shot. Nobody was there to kill you or get killed by you,” Yee finished, his tone remaining accusatory, however.
“Oh, and how was I supposed to go out and do what I am supposed to do with Shapiro if I was all messed up physically?” Lauren asked.
“Hell, I don’t know,” Yee replied. “I don’t have any idea what they thought they were accomplishing. Hotheads prevail. There is way too much emotion in all of this and I’m tired of it. This is about a simple exchange for money, lots of money.”
Lauren hung up the phone. He took the Mannlicher down to the basement where he reloaded. If only one side wanted peace then it didn’t make any difference. You got war. Lauren dug deeper into his collection, putting a Smith and Wesson fifty-caliber revolver aside as well as a Frianchi SPAS -12 shotgun. The shotgun had been outlawed in the U.S. a few years earlier but Lauren never had the heart to part with it. It fed the rare three and a half-inch twelve-gauge rounds, and it held a dozen of them. At fifty yards, using the rifled slugs, the gun could stop a charging elephant, or if used at short range, penetrate any door lock ever made.
Sergeant Yee called to tell him that the bar would be closed for inventory on the following day, but that Lauren should work the day through to make sure everything was normal. Shapiro’s yacht was expected offshore, to arrive mid-way between Molokai and Oahu sometime in the afternoon. Lauren was to prepare the powered cat and be on hand to depart at three or later. He would be taking Yee, Hiyashi, and Ashton on the cruise across the open water to where the yacht would be floating…
Sharon was home and up when Lauren got back from work. He filled her in on what had happened earlier in the day, leaving out the sinking of the boat. She made no comment about any of it excepting his instructions to meet Shapiro at his yacht.
“No,” she said when he told her. “You’re not going anywhere with those three whacked out idiots aboard. If you go you’ll never come back from that yacht. And it may not even be deliberate. Those people are like working with the Keystone Kops or the Three Stooges. Get out of it, somehow.”
Lauren pondered over what she’d said. Thankfully, Sharon went to bed without further comment. He was exhausted but knew sleep would not come easy. The forces coming together the next day could very well spell the end of everything, including his life, and the adrenalin injected into his system from engaging in actual physical combat would not bleed away for some time.
“Well, God,” Lauren said, standing out by the pool and looking up in the night sky above Koko Head, “What do You think about all this?”
A single streak ran across the top of the night; a meteoroid on its way to a fiery death. Lauren turned and went back into the house, wondering whether that was a very good omen or a really terrible one.
Lauren went back to the basement to prepare. It stood to reason that he would be allowed no weaponry of any kind when the approach to Shapiro’s yacht was made. He went to work with dental floss; six strands, slowly and carefully braided into a white rope less than an eighth of an inch in diameter. He tested the homemade cord with a hundred-pound pressure gauge when he was done. The line held right to the end of the gauge’s ability to test it.
Using an old rag he scrunched half a can of Kiwi tan-colored polish into his hand. He ran the dental rope back and forth through the rag until it was the color of beach sand, which happened to be the same color as the color of the catamaran’s hull.
Lauren turned his attention to the BodyGuard. There was no way the powerful stun device would be allowed aboard the yacht, so changes had to be made. It took two hours of extremely taxing work to rewire the device and make it look like a cell phone. After soldering the metal and plastic mess back together, and recharging it, he put it back in its little nylon case. There was no way to know if the changes he’d made would be effective in fooling any security staff, so it would have to wait for field testing if such circumstance presented itself.
There was no more to be done. Whatever happened later in the day would be up to God, except for the boat journey out to the yacht. Lauren was going to follow his wife’s advice. For one thing, he wanted no direct contact with Ashton following what he’d done to him. Yee referred to the man by his new nickname, which was “Ashen,” as he’d apparently been totally white when he’d entered the emergency room. Being the cause of the man’s denigrating nickname alone might be enough to get him killed, Lauren knew.
It was late morning. Lauren took a canvas bag with the equipment he’d prepared, having filled the revolver with five rounds of hand-loaded ammunition. The special stuff had cost him six dollars a round the year before. Instead of the factory three hundred and fifty-grain bullet, and powder generating just over two thousand foot-pounds of energy at the end of its four-inch barrel, the monster .50 special ammo drove a five hundred grain bullet with three thousand pounds of punch. Lauren had never fired the experimental rounds. He was afraid the recoil would cause damage to his hand, or ‘spalling’ out the side of the gun, through the tiny space between the cylinder and the barrel, would hurt someone nearby. All such considerations were out the window given the circumstances. Damage to his hand or to nearby bystanders would be well within acceptable tolerances if things went south while he was out in the passage of the Molokai Express.
Once aboard the Fool’s Gold, he unpacked his small canvas sack. He tied one end of the dental floss rope to the closest piece of metal brightwork, reachable from the center-mounted console helm. The .50 Smith and Wesson fit nicely between two seat cushions without sticking out. If there were going to be passengers, however, then it would be important to keep them away from that particular area. The stun gun would stay in his right front pocket, insulated only by its thin nylon case. His real cell phone would be in his left pocket. There was no need to carry a wallet, keys, money or any other things on his body. He, and the boat, and the gear were ready to go.
Lauren studied the boat’s layout looking for anything that might be used to his advantage in case of trouble, but everything was made of fiberglass. After some thought, he unloaded all the life jackets from side lockers and packed them as densely as he could into the center console module. The boat could be operated with some difficulty from in front of the console and the short tower stacked with life jackets might offer some cover from behind.
It would not stop high-powered rifles or something as strong as the Magnum revolver, but it would have to do.
Sharon met him for lunch. They sat out in the open area of Zippys overlooking the interior harbor. Koko Island, the center-placed development in the middle of the harbor, the one he enjoyed boating around, remained inscrutably still. In all of his time coming to Hawaii Kai Lauren had never seen anyone in any of the residences. No boats ever occupied the many piers.
“What’s your plan?” Sharon asked, setting a Bento Plate in front of him to compliment her own. Lauren picked at the contents, having no appetite whatever. He knew his lack of hunger originated from deep fear. If one was about to enter a combat zone the body refused sustenance, somehow knowing that any penetration of the torso would be even more disastrous if bowels were filled with processing food.
“I don’t have a plan,” Lauren replied. “What do you think? You seem to be able to see things I can’t lately. I’m supposed to take those guys out to the yacht at three but, and I agree with you here, that’s a mistake. How do I get out of it? I can’t think of a way.” Lauren looked up from his Bento Plate to meet her eyes.
“Don’t be there,” she said, between bites of some kind of luscious-looking teriyaki chicken.
“Where am I going to be, if not here?” Lauren responded, wondering what the hell she was talking about.
“Take the boat out. Cruise around your favorite island over there. Call Yee at the appointed time and tell him you’re going out solo. Tell him to get aboard of one of Hiyashi’s ridiculous hot rods and get out there. You want your own means of transportation if things don’t work out. They’ll be mad as hornets but by then you’ll have hung up. Take off for where the boat’s supposed to be. Maybe you’ll get some time alone with Shapiro.”
Lauren stared at his wife, as she consumed a piece of exotic battered pork. He wondered where his real wife was hiding out behind Sharon’s calm exterior. Somehow, when there was no solution, this new woman came up with one that not only made sense but also seemed totally rational and obvious. How had he missed it? And how had he missed this fascinating creature lurking just beneath the surface of the woman he loved?
“Good luck,” Sharon said, getting ready to clear her tray and head back into the restaurant proper. “I really do love you. I wish I could help more but I’ve got to look after the kids if this doesn’t end well. Whatever happens, take it to them. Act. Don’t react. Our lives probably depend on that. Call me on the cell if you think I can help or if you’re hurt.”
Lauren watched her walk away. It gave him a warm feeling to realize that there were depths to her he had never plumbed much less guessed existed within her. He was extraordinarily lucky if he could simply live far enough into the future to enjoy his good fortune of knowing her better.
At two-thirty he loosed the mooring lines and gently eased the Fool’s Gold between the docks and out into the harbor. He circled Koko Island, as he’d done so many times before, intent on seeing any activity, but there was none. No cars went back and forth over the connecting bridge. The island was a strange mystery he’d probably never gain any understanding of.
Lauren hit redial on Yee’s number. The man answered immediately.
“We’re standing on the dock. Where the hell is the boat?” Yee demanded, in a tone of apparent irritation.
“Get Hiyashi to take you out,” Lauren replied. “I’m not going anywhere with Ashton and if he has a problem with that then too bad. If he thinks we are somehow even for what happened to my wife then he has another think coming. I’m headed out to the middle of the Molokai Express, where I presume some kind of custom yacht awaits.” Lauren throttled the twin outboards up and headed the Fool’s Gold toward the bridge.
“All right, alright, but wait just outside the harbor,” Yee responded, giving in. “We’ll go together. The channel is bigger than it appears. Hiyashi knows just where Shapiro’s targeted moorage is. Let’s at least stay in the general area together.”
Lauren hung up the phone. He could see no reason to argue. He would keep the independence of having his own escape vehicle if it came to that. What facility the yacht would have to take any of them aboard remained unknown.
Hiyashi’s craft came under the bridge a few minutes later, picking up speed and heading directly out to sea. Lauren accelerated up to seventy miles per hour just to maintain the pace. As expected, however, Hiyashi was forced to substantially throttle back once they passed out of the bay into some of the world’s harshest choppy water. The slower speed caused his own, more stable boat, to become bow high and stern deep, making it handle like a wallowing unbalanced barge. The twin-hulled Glacier Bay was as nimble in the rough water as it was steady in the flats of the inner bay, but the Molokai Express was a challenge to any boat.
Both boats worked well out to sea for nearly an hour before the distant bulk of Molokai grew substantial in size. The long island covered half the horizon before Lauren saw the yacht. It was huge. As they slowly closed the distance he estimated it to be at least two hundred feet long, which meant it could easily carry a hundred tons of gold or any other cargo. Lauren sighed. How many more lies had been told and what truth was to be found out in the middle of a roughly dark sea between two Hawaiian Islands?
Hiyashi brought his boat around the bow of the stopped ship while Lauren curved around the stern. The ship was stenciled “Grand Slam” in gold letters across the stern, which made Lauren think for a moment, before smiling. Grand Slam was the operation to raid Fort Knox by Auric Goldfinger in the movie of the same name. Whoever or whatever Shapiro was, he was a man with a sense of humor.
The waters in the middle of the channel were a Mixmaster mess of huge choppy waves countering and crossing one another. From two hundred yards away Lauren could barely make out Hiyashi’s boat from the rising and plunging waves. Windblown spindrift flew like horizontal rain. The channel was a boiling cauldron of wickedly roiling water. Lauren was wondering how they could possibly board the ship under such conditions when the ship began to move sideways. A single fountain of water shot out from the bow and then the stern of the vessel.
“Bow and stern thrusters,” Lauren noted aloud. As the big ship began to move sideways to port the water along the starboard side suddenly became flat and inviting. The flat portion was as long as the ship and extended out for hundreds of feet. A side ladder-like gangway extended out from midway along the breath of the Grand Slam’s hull. One end tilted and slowly began to lower toward the relatively calm water created by the ships sideways movement. Lauren guided the catamaran in, wondering how he would secure it and how it would fair when the big ship was no longer shielding it from the seething waters.
Using as much economy of movement as possible, Lauren eased the .50 caliber Smith and Wesson Magnum over the side. The braided dental floss rope would hold even with the cat running at speed but it would not stay down in the water under such conditions. Running hard and needing the weapon at the same time didn’t seem likely however, he reflected. He pulled the boat in toward the gangway, not bothering to look around to view the bobbing misery the other three men had to be experiencing further out.